Strange Flesh

, the first novel from former software designer Michael Olson, is a thought-provoking, near-future thriller about the intersection of computer technology, online gaming, and human sexuality.

What was the genesis of this novel?

I was teaching at NYU’s Interactive Technologies Program and had been put in touch with Jennifer Joel, who’s now my agent, to talk about a nonfiction book concerning virtual reality. In the process of writing proposals, these strange scenes and characters kept popping up in my mind. I made the sort of classic ridiculous engineer’s calculation about how long it might take to write a novel and just said to Jen, “I’m going to spend Christmas break, write a draft and send it to you and see what you think.” Flash-forward two years—I finally completed my first draft.

Your book seems filled with allusions to other books.

In my dream of what a book can be, I definitely was thinking about writers who are writing about technology and are channeling some sort of techno-social zeitgeist in their books [so] they become the definitive historic representation of that technology. Like Michael Crichton with respect to bioengineering.

In writing about near-future technologies, is it a daunting proposition to stay ahead of the curve?

I was astounded to do the research and find out that the book hadn’t already been written. I had this vision of a lot of other people writing this book at the same time. I did think that it was going to be the first book to use the words “teledildonics” and “omnidirectional treadmill.” But it turns out that they’re also in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Do you think video or computer games or MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) will one day supplant books and movies?

You don’t find that once a medium is established that it ever gets supplanted. To the extent that you develop a valuable community that people like, you will always have a core group of people that interact with it. Do I think MMORPG’s are going to continue taking up increasing bandwidth for people? Yes. But I don’t think they’ll ever cause the extinction of other media.

Are people concerned that virtual sex might one day take the place of real sex?

I was at a wedding a couple of years ago where I was going on about synaptic interfaces and a 70-year-old lady sitting next to me leaned over and said, “What I want to know is, when are they going to fix those machines so we can make whoopee with them?” Maybe she’d had too much chardonnay, but it tends to be an aspect of technology that generates a lot of interest.